Did 67 children ages 5-14 die from COVID-19 in 2020? Yes (68, to be precise), but this chart comparing that to the much higher death tolls from traffic accidents, fires and other causes obscures the risk posed by children's infections, which though rarely fatal to the child, are increasing and can spread and add to the adult cases, hundreds of thousands of which end in death. The graph used with this claim attempts to make apples-to-apples comparisons of COVID to accidental causes of death that are not infectious threats to other humans the way SARS-CoV-2 is, but the comparison is not valid. The chart uses information that's a year old at the time of writing. In 2021, the child death toll doubled: 134 children ages 5-14 have died in 2021 from COVID-19, per the CDC data available at the time this fact check was published. Globally, COVID killed more people in 2021 than in 2020, WebMD reports.
Let's add some context. Pay attention. Look at all of this, read all of this and more importantly look at this one down here at the bottom. Just for context. And I'll get out of the way.
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Mon Dec 13 22:27:04 2021 UTC)
The post on Facebook pointing to other causes of death as evidence COVID isn't of concern is a 30-second video from TikTok that shows a graph titled "Deaths Among U.S. Children Ages 5-14 (2019)." The 11 causes of death highlighted in red include car accidents, cancer, birth defects and others. There is one line about COVID-19 deaths in the year 2020 with the number 67 highlighted in black.
Wagging his eyebrows, the presenter points to the number of COVID-19 deaths for children 5-14 in 2020 as if to suggests the pandemic is not as serious as other causes. This number has a different meaning when you include the appropriate context:
- Car crashes kill far more than COVID because almost every child in the U.S. is exposed to the danger of traffic accidents almost daily by virtue of the ubiquity of school buses and cars in American life. Meanwhile, a Columbia University study showed only one third of U.S. citizens had been infected in 2020, suggesting the risk of COVID was much less widespread than the risk of car accidents.
- Car accidents, cancer, suicide, birth defects, homicide, drowning, heart disease, smoke/fire are not communicable diseases. In other words, a child's death of those causes is not proven to spread to others, while children with COVID-19 do cause fatal or harmful infection in adults, for whom there were 378,000 COVID deaths in 2020.
- Those other causes of death have a predictable rate and can be considered perennial threats, whereas COVID is a relative newcomer. For instance, the first U.S. COVID death was February 6, 2020, in California, but the first in Kansas was not until March and all 50 states had not had a COVID death until April 2020.
A death toll as low as 68 obscures the risks associated with rarely-fatal COVID illness in children.
"We are seeing an uptick now as schools are back in session, after school and sports activities resume, and businesses are opening back up," Dr. Rita Burke, associate professor of clinical population and public health sciences at the University of Southern California, told Lead Stories via email on December 8, 2021. "This is to be expected as the virus has not gone away."
Burke explained how COVID-19 infections among children can be detrimental to the greater public:
Although COVID has largely spared children from deaths, they can still contract the virus, get sick and infect their family members. Children do get sick from COVID.
Although children may experience milder symptoms or none at all, they are still able to get their parents, grandparents and other vulnerable family members sick. Adults can experience much more severe symptoms which may end in hospitalizations or even death. We want to keep folks out of the hospitals, especially with flu season upon us, as this puts an added stress on our healthcare system.
As of December 9, 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported, 7.2 million of 41.8 million U.S. cases were children.
And Harvard University's Coronavirus Resource Center said that as knowledge accumulates, scientists now see evidence even children with mild infections can spread the virus to each other and to adults because they carry heavy viral loads in their upper respiratory tract, which is how the virus is spread.
A spokesperson for the CDC told Lead Stories via email on December 7, 2021 that the actual number of deaths in children ages 5-14 in 2020 was 68, not the 67 shown in the chart.
COVID deaths among children will change with circumstances. Schools across the United States were closed for in-person learning for much of 2020 and children were not on school campuses together for most of the year. Re-openings contributed to the increased cases in young children the following year, as did the increased transmissibility and virulence of the delta variant.